Dogs can get cataracts. They are an inherited problem in several breeds, but can also occur due to trauma to the lens, toxins, dietary deficiencies in puppyhood, diabetes, and old age.
The term cataract is used for any opacity in the lens of the eye. Some are congenital and develop slowly through the dog’s life; others are caused by trauma, infection, inflammation, or toxins affecting the eye. Diabetes causes rapid formation of cataracts in older dogs, and, finally, cataracts can develop simply as a result of old age.
Age-related cataracts are usually small and do not limit vision too much. Larger cataracts can cause total blindness, but if they develop slowly a dog can learn to navigate his world using smell, hearing, and touch. Your vet can explain more about the type of cataract your dog has and the likely effect on his vision. Cataract surgery in dogs can be very successful, but first the ophthalmic vet must check that the retina at the back of the eye is functioning, or the surgery will be useless. Usually only one eye is treated as this is enough to allow dogs to see what dogs need to see.
Advanced cataracts will make a dog blind, but early changes may not affect vision. It is quite possible that your dog has nuclear sclerosis, a hardening of the lens which occurs in all older dogs and has little effect on vision. Next time you are at the vet's ask them to check.
Helping your dog cope without sight
Here are some top tips for helping your dog cope without sight:
- Most dogs will form an excellent mental map of their environment. Help by initially restricting their access to a small area of the house and garden until they are comfortable and negotiating this, then extend it gradually.
- Do not move furniture around, but remove potentially hazardous objects your dog could bump into.
- Leave feed and water bowls in their familiar places.
- Leave the radio or TV on when your dog is left alone. These sound cues will help him orientate himself.
- Scent or tactile cues will also help orientation, for example laying place mates at room entrances - your dog will learn to feel these under his feet.